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The Inquiry: Kelly Corrigan, host of ‘Tell Me More’ on PBS

She grew up in Villanova, attended Radnor High School, and has interviewed everyone from Margaret Atwood to Alec Baldwin

Host Kelly Corrigan chats with Philly chef Omar Tate at St. Joseph's University. He'll be featured on an upcoming episode of Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan.
Host Kelly Corrigan chats with Philly chef Omar Tate at St. Joseph's University. He'll be featured on an upcoming episode of Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan.Read moreCourtesy of the show

The INQuiry is a conversation with Philly personalties who are making news, chasing dreams, and changing the game.

Philadelphia’s Kelly Corrigan is poised to start the fourth season of Tell Me More With Kelly Corrigan, airing on WHYY and other PBS stations in October. Corrigan grew up in Villanova, attended Radnor High School, and at this point has interviewed poets, scientists, authors, activists, actors — everyone from Margaret Atwood to Alec Baldwin — on subjects from tolerance to perseverance to grief. This season, look for interviews with Penn professor and resilience expert Angela Duckworth and chef Omar Tate.

Corrigan, 55, spoke to The Inquirer about her life, work and some of the issues that engage both television viewers and listeners of her podcast, Kelly Corrigan Wonders. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why ‘grief’ as a topic?

A question that I find always yields fascinating answers is, “Who do you miss?” When you ask [basketball’s] Steve Kerr who do you miss, his eyes fill with tears. He talks about his dad, who he lost when he was 18. Grief is a defining factor in people’s lives. And it cuts right to the heart of who they are, and who they’re trying to be, and when they have felt truly loved.

Who do you miss?

I miss my dad. I’ve never been loved that sincerely and thoroughly before or since. My dad, he thought I could do things. His Magic 8 Ball for me was always saying, “It’s going to be great.” And there was zero pressure in it. It was, “Trust me, you’re special.” And that is a really big thing to communicate consistently and repeatedly to a kid.

What is your favorite Philadelphia memory?

Radnor Middle School. The eighth-grade play. Oklahoma! Every kid in the grade plays some part in the performance. It was such an exciting, culminating event for those three years. I got murdered with mean-girl stuff as a sixth grader. But by eighth grade everybody was together. I played (Gertie) Cummings, I tried to break up the main couple.

What have you learned from the people you’ve interviewed?

I’m not so much a journalist as I am a humanist. I’m not going for the story as much as for the humanity. My kids are both in college now. It’s fascinating to me how significant the parent-child relationships are to people of all walks and professions. There’s no one who doesn’t need and want to talk about their parents, and what they did and did not learn through their childhood. … At this stage in parenting — I’m an empty nester — it can feel like I’ve been let go. It can feel like I’ve been dismissed. But everybody I’m talking to, Jennifer Garner, James Corden, Michael Lewis, Omar Tate in Philly, the only place to start is, “Where did you grow up, and who raised you?”

What did you try to teach your children?

If you ask them, “What are the five things your mom said to you the most?” One is, if you do it nicely, you can ask for anything. I didn’t want them to be cowed. If you wanted to change your seat in a class so you can see the board better, you’re allowed to ask. Also, funny always wins. Be good at friendship. …Look closer. You can get cynical or you can get bored, but if you look closer there’s something fascinating about everyone.

Who are some of the people you’ll interview this season?

I interviewed Dave Eggers, the great writer. His philanthropy and activism is so impressive, because it doesn’t seem to be slowing his creative output. As a person who writes books and other things, I can’t figure out how he’s getting it done. I also talked to [activist] Cecile Richards. And [lawyer] Neal Katyal. He has argued in front of the Supreme Court 45 times. The Supreme Court has never loomed larger in American society. He felt like the person to talk to at this moment.

The new season of “Tell Me More With Kelly Corrigan” starts 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 12, on WHYY.